Streamlined by design
06 April 2021
The Industrial IoT ensures a connected and controlled supply chain, argues Marcus Jeffery.
Technology has undoubtedly revolutionised the supply chain. Not only have processes become far more streamlined – with ordering, picking and delivery times reduced significantly – supply chain and warehouse technology has also allowed workforces to stay safe and productive despite the social distancing restrictions that have pre-dominated in recent times. What’s more, these digital solutions are not siloed. Instead, they are connected and communicative technologies that ensure customer expectations are both met and exceeded, while workforce errors are reduced, and the entire supply chain becomes transparent internally as well as externally. In a year in which online shopping became the central focus for retailers and consumers alike – research found that global eCommerce sales were likely to hit £3.9tn by the end of 2020 – warehouse optimisation has been essential. So, what has enabled connectivity across the supply chain and allowed businesses to thrive despite adversity? It seems that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has a significant role to play.
Integration and control
In short, the IoT is a network of devices that are connected to the internet, and therefore each other, in order to communicate effectively and transfer data without the need for human intervention. When applied to industrial settings the IIoT is created, which can improve the efficiency of enterprise operations and reduce downtime by leveraging enhanced connectivity to identify issues early. For any supply chain logistics professional, it will therefore come as no surprise that there are plenty of opportunities for the IIoT to improve warehouse processes. While the integration of digital supply chain solutions and the Internet of Things has many benefits, there is one overarching positive that allows for improvements across a variety of areas: increased control.
If virtually every element of the online retail process is connected, consumers gain control and can track their order from the second they click ‘purchase’, right through to the moment they sign for delivery. With more control and transparency comes a more positive digital experience, which is currently a top priority for many of the brands well-known for successful in-store sales, yet have never, before now, implemented such a complex eCommerce infrastructure. More control for supply chain stakeholders also positively influences customer service, as inventory management needs a constant flow of visible and accessible data to be successful. Businesses must be able to track their items, ensure their stock matches demand and prioritise online communication in order to guarantee fulfilment and avoid disappointment.
With an IoT-enabled Order Management System (OMS) in place to amalgamate supply chain technology, websites can remain live and current based on data from the warehouse. Workforce productivity also improves with a connected OMS, which in turn reduces the chance of errors occurring, and entire supply chain transparency reduces time spent either searching for or remediating an issue. With a reduction in errors and a controlled, visible fulfilment journey available, businesses will no longer need to worry that the shift to online orders will cause detrimental effects to their brand reputation.
Ease and efficiency
The controlled connectivity of the Industrial Internet of Things also makes for a more efficient and easy-to-follow system for the teams behind the technology. Wearable tech and hand-held iOS and Android devices have become more easily integrated into warehouse processes, and swapping ruggedised Windows operating systems for more dynamic, touchscreen Android-enabled tablets makes operations much simpler. Onboarding processes are also optimised, as the user interface of these modern devices better mirrors that of the consumer mobile phone, meaning a large majority of new staff will be able to hit the ground running and learn quickly. Similarly, wearable devices and voice-picking technologies have increased supply chain efficiency twofold, as hands-free and voice-enabled solutions can allow for increased accuracy as well as improved speed. While pressure mounts on warehouse teams to pick and pack as rapidly and accurately as possible, easy-to-use IIoT devices are key to increasing productivity.
While endpoint devices like wearable tech or handheld tablets may seem like siloed technologies, the IIoT allows them to become an interconnected network. However, it is also important to be able to manage each device – and the network as a whole – through an overarching Mobile Device Management (MDM) system, meaning everything from label printers to scanners to voice-picking solutions are integrated. MDM capabilities are critical for maintaining control of connected devices and optimising their performance by allowing businesses to configure, deploy, update and maintain all devices on one platform. There is a variety of supply chain technology available in the market, so choosing options that allow your team to integrate different hardware and software is essential. The more devices within the chain, the greater the management effort. However, with enhanced connectivity, processes can become more streamlined and the workforce more productive. As long as an enterprise optimises and leverages the best IIoT technology in the market, supply chains will only continue to improve.
Marcus Jeffery, territory manager – UK and Ireland, Ivanti Wavelink
For more information, visit www.ivanti.com